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The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok
By Richard Matheson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1996 RXR, Inc.
All rights reserved.
My Intention, Wise or Otherwise
I, James Butler Hickok, being of chafed mind and dilapidated body, hereby declare what I intend to accomplish by the writing of this account.
In brief, a presentation of the truth; the details of my life as they occurred, not as so many think they did.
For more than fifteen years, commencing after the war, I maintained a daily journal of my activities. It was, sad to relate, more than somewhat self-justifying if not self-aggrandizing. I reread it awhile back and found it to be a generous heap of cow chips. Sensibly, I put a match to it.
I am thirty-eight years old now, and it is time to set the record straight about my life. Despite my scarcely venerable age, I have a lingering impression that I am near the end of my trail. It is, accordingly, now or never.
If what I disclose offends or dismays those legions who have, over the years, shaped me in their minds as some manner of icon, a two-gun god set up on a pedestal — well, sorry; my regrets. But truth is truth and facts are facts and I cannot change that anymore, although I tried to do it once.
To begin with, then, step back in time to my childhood.CHAPTER 2
Growing Up (as Much as Possible)
I was, as you may know, the youngest of four brothers. Oliver, born in 1830; Lorenzo in 1832 (another Lorenzo, born in 1831, died soon after birth); and Horace in 1834. In 1836, the family moved to Homer, Illinois, where I was born the following year. My two sisters, Celinda and Lydia, were born in 1839 and 1842.
Herewith, a brief quotation from a description — not mine, I rush to clarify — of my early life.
"The deadliest killer of men the West has ever known, James Butler Hickok was born in a tiny log cabin in Troy Grove, Illinois, on June 27, 1837."
It was a small house in Homer, Illinois, on May 27, 1837. The inaccuracies began immediately, you see.
"As a boy, Young Hickok [as a boy I could hardly be called Old Hickok] was enthralled by tales of the wild frontier, poring avidly over many a volume that recounted, in hair-raising detail, sagas of adventure in that barbarous land."
I see myself, about the age of twelve, a wispy, blond, extremely doe-eyed boy, sitting cross-legged by the fireplace, a book of true adventures on my lap.
Concealed inside it was a torn-out catalog page on which were illustrated ladies' corsets.
"In this, he was encouraged by his father, a kindly, tolerant man."
Visualize Young Hickok emitting squeals of utmost pain as his father hauled him to his feet by one ear.
Moments later, picture in your mind Young Hickok stretched across his father's lap, reddening buttocks being walloped with a belt. Young Hickok's blubbering has no effect on Elder Hickok, whose features, in moments of such stress, bore all the animation of a statue's.
"A Hickok is a gentleman," he told me, alternating blows with that reminder. "A Hickok is a gentleman." Whop! "A Hickok is a gentleman." Whop! "A Hickok —"
You get the idea, I think. All of this observed by my mother, watching in subservient distress, unable to prevent her favorite son from getting his bottom belabored.
Afterward (it was a regular occurrence, I assure you), my mother would apply — with tender, loving touch — goose grease to my fiery, stinging backside as I lay on my stomach on her bed, her tone of voice as loving as her soothing application.
"You must always be a gentleman, James," she would tell me gently. "Remember that. It is your birthright. You are descended from the Hiccock family of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. A noble line, James."
To which I snuffled pitifully, eyes bubbling tears, and murmured, "Yes, Mother."
* * *
Oliver and Horace and Lorenzo were tall, strong boys, my father was tall as well and constructed like a tree.
I, on the other hand, was a stripling, slender and graceful in appearance (if I do say so myself). Hardly a likely prospect to become "the deadliest killer of men the West has ever known"; but more on that anon.
I believe that my facial features were inherited from my father, a man of distinguished appearance, with dark hair, high cheekbones, and a Roman nose.
My disposition (I am glad to say) came from my mother, a warm-hearted, seraphic woman whom I loved intensely.
That my disposition came from her, I did not overly relish in my youth. The other boys in Homer treated me — what is the proper word? — abominably? Yes, that will do. They called me Girlboy, inviting (actually goading) me to wrath and fisticuffs.
Said invitation was rarely accepted by me unless their physical and verbal tormenting grew so extreme that I saw red and responded with sudden, mindless violence that for a moment or two, sufficed to startle them into retreat. My fury vanished quickly, however — almost instantaneously — at which point they would, once more, charge and chase and cuff me to the point of tears.
I wept a good deal as a boy. My father hated that, so I attempted to conceal it from him as well as I was able — which, too often, proved impossible. My mother, bless her saintly heart, understood and sympathized with all that I was going through. Without that loving sympathy, I wonder now and then if I would have survived my childhood.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I cannot recall for certain, my father tried to teach me how to fire a revolver. I emphasize the word tried, for I was just about as far from being a candidate for "the deadliest killer of men," etc., as the Earth is from the stars.
See Young Hickok standing there, a look of calcified intent on his girlboy face as he aims a huge (to him) revolver at a distant target.
"At an age when other boys knew naught of such pursuits, Hickok was already mastering the art of pistol firing ..."
Closing his eyes, a grimace of total apprehension on his face, Young Hickok pulls the trigger, the violent recoil of the pistol flinging him into his (prevalently tenderized) backside, the revolver jumping from the grip of his delicate hand.
"... aided always by the patient ministrations of his beloved sire."
Patient and beloved sire drags Young Hickok to his feet by his (also tenderized) ear and leads him to the fallen revolver. "Again," he says through clenched teeth.
Young Hickok picks up the revolver gingerly. He aims, grimaces, shuts his eyes, and pulls the trigger once again. A repetition of the same, Young Hickok flung down forcefully onto his sensitized haunches, the revolver flying, the target as safe as a babe in church.
How many times did this go on? I believe the proper word is interminably. Until Young Hickok's face was smudged from the black powder smoke, his hand and arm and shoulder aching from the pistol's sharp recoil, and his behind on its way, once more, to peaks of throbbing pain.
Grimace, eyes shut, pulling of trigger, exploding percussion, Young Hickok thrown flat on his arse, beloved sire hauling him up by the ear, intoning, in the same sepulchral tone of voice, "Again." Until Young Hickok, injured and despairing, breaks into a fit of weeping, at which patient sire twists his son's ear and instructs him that "a gentleman does not cry."
If the blubbering did not cease forthwith, off came the belt, Young Hickok's trousers were lowered to halfmast, and another buttock drubbing ensued.
Followed, as the custom was, by my mother applying further layers of goose grease to my battered backside, comforting me, and reminding me in her loving way of my heritage.
I recall the day she opened up a family chest and drew forth from its aromatic depths a copy of the Hickok family tree.
Our family can be traced back (she informed me) to one Edward Hiccox, Esquire, of Stratford, England. A relative named John Hiccocks was a Master of the High Court of Chancery from 1703 to 1709.
A William Hitchcock sailed to America in 1635, settling down in Connecticut.
A hero in the Revolutionary War was Aaron Hickok; he was, it is believed, present at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
"You see, son," said my mother on that occasion and many others, "you are descended from a fine and noble line."
I found that somewhat comforting and there were times aplenty when I needed that comfort to assuage the aching in my heart (and bottom).CHAPTER 3
I Become a Bibliolator
If you have read this far, perhaps you wonder at my command of language.
My mother constantly encouraged me to read in order that I might educate myself. This I did, keeping the habit as much a secret as possible from my P.A.B.S. (patient and beloved sire) since he felt that such a custom was a waste of time, a man's attention to be concentrated exclusively on the higher values of life such as commerce, farming, politics, and (I took it as a given) shooting pistols at targets so as to perfect the shooting of them at men. I find it beyond ironic that I ended up so deeply entrenched in this latter "manly" pursuit.
I have been, by necessity (I believed that it was necessary, anyway) obliged to conceal my reading and education from the general public, feeling that, in their eyes, it besmirched my image as the deadliest killer of blah ad infinitum. I have gone so far as to deliberately misspell words and misuse grammatical construction in order to maintain that image as a rough-and-ready pistoleer. Well, bah to that. The truth emerges now.
I have read — naturally — the novels of James Fenimore Cooper such as The Last of the Mohicans, The Leatherstocking Tales, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer. I tried to read Santanstoe but found it less interesting than his other works and did not complete it.
I have also enjoyed a number of works by the well-known English author Charles Dickens, most notably The Pickwick Papers (which I found delightful), Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield. I tried to read American Notes but found a good deal of it quite offensive in its criticism of our way of life and broke off the reading.
I read (with many a shiver, I confess) Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, the idea for which (I read elsewhere) was derived from the witness of a certain alchemist who claimed to have created a tiny human being in a bottle; homunculus, I believe it was called. I also read much of Carlyle's History of the French Revolution and found it to be of much interest.
I have read some of Edgar Allan Poe's works but, in general, thought them oppressively dark in tone although his poetry is singularly powerful, particularly "The Bells" and "The Raven."
I have also read, throughout the years, The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, Don Quixote by Cervantes, Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Gulliver's Travels by Swift, The Memoirs of Casanova (I sensed a kindred spirit there), Pilgrim's Progress by Bunyan, Robinson Crusoe by Defoe (I, too, have known that sense of utter isolation felt by Crusoe), Tom Jones by Fielding, Ivanhoe by Scott, and even Uncle Tom's Cabin by Stowe (of whom Lincoln, I recall reading, upon meeting her, said something like, "Well, here is the little lady who started the war").
All this in addition to a regular perusal of as many newspapers as I was able to lay my hands on.
Why do I mention this? As indicated, to square my account. I intend to tell the truth regardless of its consequences. My Wild Bill image may be tarnished by the facts, but let that be. I wish it so.
I might add, since it is not a fact generally known, that my mother also introduced me to the subject of Spiritualism, telling me about it when I was a boy. Naturally, as in so many other areas of my life at that time, I did not (dared not) mention this to P.A.B.S. Nor did my mother tell any of my brothers about it; I was the only one she trusted with such information. I confess that, to this day, I am not certain how I feel about the subject. God knows I have been exposed to death in many ways, but as to its penultimate significance, I am not sure. Naturally, I would like to believe in a continuation of existence, although I do confess that the vision of men I have killed remaining about as lingering shades does nothing but chill my blood.CHAPTER 4
Birds, Bees, and Pistology
"Young Hickok spent many an hour in manly pursuits, his endless quest for bold, exciting enterprises leading him into more than one tight squeeze."
One of these manly pursuits was Hannah Robbins, who I lured into a haystack on a sunny afternoon, urged on by the mounting juices in my lower realm.
Unfortunately, P.A.B.S. happened to be passing by and found us there.
I recall his features — stonelike as always — as he hauled me upward, trouserless and jutting in a most unseemly way, and escorted me across the field (by ear, of course) while naked fourteen-year-old Hannah scrambled from the stack, snatched up her clothes, and ran for home.
Inside our barn, a typical posterior-hiding took place, my body (ungarbed below) stretched across my father's legs as he wore his belt down farther on my burning buttocks.
"A Hickok is a gentleman," he told me sternly. "Repeat."
"A Hi-Hi-Hi-Hi —" was all I could manage.
I cried out as another blow resounded leatherly across my bottom.
"Hickok isagen'l'man!" I blurted.
"Correct," my father said.
Another belt delivery to my hapless rump.
"Repeat," my father said.
"Oooh," I replied.
Another blow. "Repeat," my father said.
"A Hickokisagen'l'man!" moaned I.
"Correct," he said. Another blow. "Repeat."
Another limping, weeping visit to my mother's consoling presence. Another gentle application of goose grease to my harrowed haunches. Another kind reminder of my legacy.
"You must always be a gentleman, James," she said. "It is expected of you."
"I know, I know," I muttered dismally.
But it did sink in. I am a gentleman. Whatever else I have failed to be, I have always been a gentleman.
Has it served me well?
I wouldn't bet my stash on it.
Fourteen years of age: my father trying, once again, to teach me pistology.
"With constant practice, Young Hickok soon perfected that deadly eye, which was to serve him with such potency in days to come."
I aimed, I fired, keeping my eyes open at any rate and managing to stay on my feet, albeit staggering noticeably.
The target — a bottle standing on a boulder top — remained untouched, the ball whistling off into the distance.
"Again," my father said, features ossifying in their usual fashion.
I aimed and fired, tottering.
The bottle remained safe and sound.
"Again," my father said.
Not much point in putting down the further details. P.A.B.S. watching me with monolithic detachment, mute save for the one repeated word. Young Hickok contorting his greenhorn visage into a gargoyle mask of concentration as he aims, fires, teeters, misses.
With each new miss, my father took me by the ear and moved me closer to the target. I kept on aiming, firing, stumbling, missing. With each new miss, my father's incredulity at my ineptitude with the revolver mounted until his eyes were bulging so with his determination not to lose his temper that it would not have surprised me at all had they popped from their sockets. Soon, his "Again's" were delivered behind tightly clenched teeth.
On one occasion, at a distance of some fifteen feet, I managed to hit the boulder, the ricocheting ball knocking off my father's hat and causing him, from startlement, to topple, crashing to the ground.
Seeing that, a woebegone expression on his face, Young Hickok began to undo his trousers as his P.A.B.S. rose to his feet and began removing his belt.
I leaned against a tree as my father laid said belt (with special vigor) across my much harried fundaments.
"A gentleman is skilled in the use of weapons," he instructed me.
"A gentleman —" I began.
A wallop on my rump concluded my remark.
"You were not instructed to repeat," my father said.
I do not recall my exact response, but I feel confident that it was something in the neighborhood of "Oooh!"
Excerpted from The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok by Richard Matheson. Copyright © 1996 RXR, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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